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Design

The Uncommon Life

Giveaway: Show Us Your Colorful Mug Shot!

May 18, 2012

The original Face Mug has gotten a lot of attention since he first looked at us with those wide eyes, flashed that perfect (for stuffing with cookies) smile, and landed in our lineup.

We’ve heard gifting stories of how he’s made loved ones laugh, suggestions for filling him with different drink and treat combos, and some interesting alternate uses–like a business card holder with candy on top or a cheerful place to pot a plant. But one thing we’ve heard time and time again is that folks would love to see this character in color.

While Mr. Mug isn’t exactly on hand in color just yet, he is available for purchase on pre-sale and can be yours as a set of two in warm or cool colors. And, to add to the fun, we’re giving away all four to one winner!

Entering is easy. Just send us your best, most colorful mug shot. Use colorful props, bright outfits, and bold backgrounds. Or, take a photo with a color-altering Instagram filter, edit with your favorite program, or come up with something even more creative!

Post the photo to our Facebook timeline and we will post it in our Show Us Your Colorful Mug Shot album.  Share it with your friends and get them to “like” and comment on your photo. Tell your friends to tell two friends and so on, and so on… because the photo that gets the most Facebook love wins a set of these technicolor mug!

We’ll announce the winner on June 1, so start snapping, editing, and spreading the word!

Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio with Claudia Pearson

May 17, 2012


When the second floor of Claudia Pearson’s Brooklyn brownstone opened up, she knew it would be the perfect place to set up a studio. Claudia was using a corner of her family’s apartment to create illustrations for books, magazines and the merchandise she was creating. Space was getting tight as her two sons and business were growing so moving to the downstairs was an easy decision.

Claudia is the designer behind the 4 Seasons Tea Towels and one of our newest UncommonGoods artists. She is not a new name around Brooklyn flea markets and I have admired her commercial work and illustrations for cooking magazines, so I was excited to visit her sunny studio and learn about her craft and her business.


What are your most essential tools for creating your art?
My illustrations are a happy marriage of analog and digital techniques so my essential tools are pencils, erasers, inks combined with my printer, scanner and Photoshop.

Where do you find inspiration within your workspace?
I recently rented the apartment below where I live with my family so after 15 years of working at home I now have a separate studio. It’s filled with sunlight and walls to pin up my work in progress. We live in a leafy Brooklyn neighborhood on a corner so the sounds of birds and life outside keep me connected.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Sadly at the moment there isn’t such a thing. I’m constantly working on commercial projects for publishers, advertising and editorial clients. I do check my favorite blogs with my coffee first thing in the morning and did recently add a sofa where I can relax and check emails.


What are some of your time management secrets?
I work with two computer screens, one for illustrating and another for email so I can respond to emails immediately. I make a list of tasks for the next week at the end of each week. I divide the list up by the days of the week and make sure never to load up one day with too much stuff, making my list manageable. I also have an assistant who comes once a week. Now I can let go of some of the things that used to take up a lot of my time. I have a great assistant who is able to take care of skill-oriented tasks that are not specific to me.

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
As a designer who relies on outside sources to produce my products, planning ahead in production was definitely a learning curve. Staying on top of suppliers and being firm about deadlines.


What advice could you offer yourself 5 years ago?
I would recommend creating schedules all the time throughout the year and during slower times making sure future products are designed and ready for production. Also to foster good relationships with design blogs and magazines that can provide valuable marketing.

Where does collaboration come into play in your work?
I’ve always loved to collaborate with people who have different skills to me. In 2010 I worked with a local chef; she came up with seasonal recipes that I illustrated and we established a set of 12 recipe cards that take you through a year of local ingredients. Last year I collaborated with a local ceramicist and we put my seasonal fruits and veggies on cups. It’s fun to apply my work to mediums that I’m unfamiliar with and bring variety to my line. I’m currently developing ideas with another local chef and food writer for a cook book so stay tuned.

So far I have been fortunate enough to have collaborated with friends of mine which has made it easy. Make sure when you are getting into a partnership or collaboration, especially with a friend, that roles are clearly defined in a way that makes the individuals’ work equal.

How do you set goals for yourself?
These days most of my goals are set for me by clients and their deadlines. When I’m designing a new line of tea towels I work seasonally and make sure I have a 6 week period to create artwork and get samples printed. My business has grown at such a phenomenal rate over the past two years that I now need to take stock and make a 5 year plan.


How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
When a creative job comes my way and I feel it will be a benchmark in my career, I take my family out for a nice dinner and we chat about it together. We have two sons who are 9 and 7 and they are extremely inspired by my world. I enjoy sharing my ideas with them and see how it is enabling them to flourish creatively.

How do you recharge your creativity?
We love to travel and try to get away whenever we can. Traveling has always inspired my work and now with kids, it’s fun to see the world through their eyes. We go to London every summer to visit family and friends. We also try and sneak in a trip to the Caribbean every few years. Failing that, a weekend upstate will certainly recharge my batteries.

Maker Stories

Classic Keys for the Modern Memorandum: Jack Zylkin’s USB Typewriter

May 11, 2012

When I was a kid, my mom had a beautiful old typewriter. I remember carefully inserting bright white sheets of paper, punching those big, round keys, hearing that delightful ding and the unmistakable sound emitted when I pulled back the lever, and the smell of a fresh, inky ribbon.

Although it may not always be practical to type hard copies these days, with liquid paper being more work than hitting backspace and all, just looking at a typewriter does bring happy thoughts to many who have used one, and some who haven’t–but see them in old movies, in antique stores, and on our some of our favorite period TV shows.

Balancing that need to keep an electronic record of our documents with the desire to capture moments in the creative process from a simpler time, inventor Jack Zylkin developed a product that celebrates the best of both worlds–the USB Typewriter.

Delighted by this innovative combination of past and present, I was excited to learn more about what drives Jack’s designs. He happily shared about his inspirations, collaborators, and what’s to come.

Q.) You said that you invented the USB Typewriter as a ‘statement about the disposable nature of modern communication and modern communication devices’. What is it about the typewriter, specifically, that you find so intriguing?

Many people have found that the overstimulation brought on by computers and electronic gadgets, whether it be emails, tweets, viral videos, or other distractions, interferes with the creative process. People dread the boredom associated with being “uplugged”, but without boredom there would be no daydreaming!

While computers and cell phones are increasingly used for consuming media, on a typewriter, there is absolutely nothing you can do except create — it forces you to hone all of your focus and heart onto a single, blank page. Still, the convenience of saving and editing your work on a computer, as well as being able to share ideas and inspiration online, is also an indispensible part of being creative.

With my USB Typewriter invention, I hoped to have the best of both worlds — while writing, you can turn your computer screen off and enjoy a sublime writing experience, directly connecting with a printed page and nothing else. Then, when your draft is finished, you can save it to a computer, edit it, email it, and so on. Even after your work has been polished and spell-checked, you will still have the original hardcopy you typed, to keep as an artifact of your first draft, or to mail to a friend. Hopefully, having a beautiful typewriter permanently on your desk –instead of a computer keyboard — will encourage you to turn the computer off altogether now and then, too!

Q.) You helped found Hive76 in 2008 and designed the USB Typewriter in 2010. How did working with a collective of artists, engineers, designers, and other creative folks influence your invention of this product?

I would never have been able to make the USB Typewriter without Hive76. They not only provided the tools, the parts, and the workspace, but also a group of enthusiastic hackers to encourage me and offer advice. For example, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones and such, so I never would have had the idea to use an iPad with the USB Typewriter — that was actually fellow Hive member Chris Thompson’s idea. And the idea to print my own circuit boards came from a class we taught at Hive76 on making your own guitar effects. Ultimately, its just a really fun place to hang out, which gave me that extra encouragement I needed to come there after my day job night after night.

Q.) This invention takes an old standard and connects it with a “newfangled contraption”, creating something beautiful and functional. Are you working on any similar concepts, or is there another modern marvel with an old-school throwback you’d love to see materialize?

I have a lot of balls in the air right now. I try to just sort of make whatever idea pops into my head, so there is no recurring theme to my inventions. For example, I am very close to finishing work on a futuristic new board game with a very cool electronic twist, which I just filed a patent for…but right now I am working on a cheap word-processor that has an e-ink screen. E-ink would be so beautiful to type on — the next best thing to actual paper!

Q.) If you were to write a novel using the USB Typewriter, what would your first line read?

“Blank pages are the best kind. Write your own story. The end.”

Now that’s a statement we can stand behind! How about you, readers? We’d love to see the first lines of your novels. How does your story begin?

Maker Stories

Made (Green) in the USA

May 3, 2012

Our friends at Green 3, Jim and Sandy Martin, have helped us add some fantastic uncommon goods to our assortment. From adorable babywear like the gnome babysuit and hat and matching blanket, to the perfect-for-a-breezy-spring-day reclaimed t-shirt scarves, to the summer-friendly update on the popular recycled sweater skirt, the recycled bridesmaid dress skirt, the Martins know eco-friendly fashion.

Sandy and Jim. photo via Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce

Jim works closely with our product development team to create unique clothing and accessories exclusive to UncommonGoods, like the bridesmaid dress skirt and the comfy, casual recycled dress shirt robe. We love that these products come from recycled materials, and many are even created with the help of organizations working with disabled adults.

“My wife Sandy started the company,” he told us. “She grew up on a farm in Michigan and saw firsthand the negative implications on the farmer’s health when they are exposed to chemical pesticides on a daily basis. She felt strongly that her company would focus on sustainable fibers that caused the least damage possible to the environment.”

Causing less damage to the environment means using organic cotton, like that in Green 3’s babysuits, and reusing materials when possible.

Sometimes those materials, like the sweaters used to make recycled sweater scarves, come from thrift stores. Others are leftovers from apparel manufacturers. “We actually look at what types of fabrics are available to us, and then design into the fabric,” Jim explained. “Certain fabrics lend themselves to specific applications and steer us into new product categories.”

Clockwise from top left: A Green 3 Artist hand-drawing a graphic / Green 3’s warehouse storing reclaimed and excess fabrics / Tina, an in-house sewer at Green 3 headquarters.

Once the fabric is in hand each piece is inspected individually to insure it meets aesthetic and quality standards. Thrift store items are washed before being deconstructed and prepared for cutting and sewing, so even though the garment created may be made from secondhand materials, it’s as good as new.

The processes of selecting, inspecting, and preparing fabrics and creating the final products are all done in the United States. “Sandy and I had both been in the corporate apparel industry for over 20 years. During that time we watched a steady flow of jobs going overseas,” said Jim. “We just felt strongly that we could do it here and bring a few jobs back. What we’re finding is that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. More and more like minded companies are partnering, and quickly it is becoming more than just a few jobs. In our community alone we employ 20 people. But our network of partners employs thousands.”

One partner helping Green three create handmade upcycled products for uncommon goods is Aspiro, a non-profit organization offering job training and career options to cognitively disabled adults in Green Bay, Wisc. “We contacted Aspiro after learning of them through a news report,” Jim said. “Their facility has been doing cut and sew work for years and they have a highly skilled labor force. When we toured the facility and saw the pride and passion of the workers, and how this opportunity for independence positively impacted their lives, we knew wanted to support the initiative any way we could.”

Reclaimed T-shirt Scarf / Dress Shirt Robe / Recycled Sweater Scarf / Recycled Bridesmaid Dress Skirt / Gnome Babysuit(TM) & Hat / Gnome Blanket

By partnering with Green 3 and other apparel manufactures, the skilled sewers at Aspiro earn fair wages and are given opportunities for independent living.

Thanks to these dedicated workers, secondhand and leftover fabrics, and the imaginations of Jim, Sandy, and the talented designers at Green 3, we’re always seeing updated products and trendy upcycled fashions. Which Green 3 design do you love most?